it’s been pretty bleak these past few years—for those of us privileged enough to feel the relative shift, the prevailing fatalistic mood—&the apocalypse has been on my mind. perhaps it has been on yours too? &what does it mean to consider the apocalypse at this moment? oscillating between a joke on twitter &a real fear that grips you in the moments between sleep &waking; an ambivalent attachment, dread, acceptance, entertainment, hope, a kind of giving up, a withdrawal, intellectual, or pragmatic; i’ve been reading writing that clicks into some familiar temporality, a sense of impending doom—speaking to this moment where we are reckoning with the devastations of global warming—even as annihilation is never total, &new &ancient forms of living &thriving continue to flourish on the margins &in the garbage piles of history. nuclear war? climate change? epidemic? whatever the case—here are some poems &novels that i’ve been reading at the end of the world—
in Ling Ma’s novel Severance we follow Candace Chen, a millennial 1.5-gen Chinese American who pursued her artistic aspirations to a dead-end job in a publishing firm; mired in the lucrative but unglamorous production of niche Bibles. as she navigates the violent (if quotidian) inequities of global capitalism via the Shenzhen to NYC commodity production chain (the workers in the Shenzhen factory grinding the stones for the Gemstone Bible are developing a respiratory illness &none of her non-Chinese-American colleagues seem to care); a zombie-ish apocalypse starts to interrupt routine. &amidst the collapse of the everyday, the novel asks what really is the difference between continuing to turn up to the dim monotony of your late-capitalist desk job, or not? as New York becomes emptier &emptier Candace haunts the city &the internet simultaneously,; posting photos of the desolate cityscape on her blog, NY Ghost.
as the sole remaining employee turning up to work, &in need of sustenance, she smashes the glass of the snack room vending machine yielding ‘roasted honey peanuts, dried fruit assortments, nutrition bars, yoghurt-dill kettle chips, lentil crackers.’ &the subject of what will be’s on the post-apocalyptic menu brings to mind Dorothea Lasky’s poem ‘Do you want to dip the rat’ from her collection Milk. i became obsessed with this poem. ‘Do you want to dip the rat / Before we eat it eat it // Do you want to dip the rat / Completely in oil // Before we eat it.’ there is something so compelling &soothing to me about the gruesomeness &humour of this poem. i have a recording of the poet reading it. &i play it over &over like a soothing chant. is this poem living in the post-apocalyptic everyday? in Shastra Deo’s ‘Victimless Leather’ from her collection The Agonist (this poem stays with me &i love returning to it now): ‘fibroblast cells: alive / are kept warm in an incubator, / feasting on scum and media.’ this lab-grown leather is then abandoned by its makers, &Deo’s speaker enters the scene, hungry: ‘I’d wanted to eat one. My belly / was surely warm enough to incubate something / so small’ so tender &macabre &delicious. between oil-dipped rat, lab-grown fibroblast cells, &lentil crackers we have one square meal.
as climate change stokes bushfire frequency &ferocity —i’ve been thinking about this poem, ‘BURN’, from Limited Cities by Lachlan Brown: ‘The wood is dry and stacked alongside the city / and quiet mouths begin to devour edges.’ With the effects of climate change becoming more intense every year, this poem swells in relevance &intensity. &Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book is not apocalyptic in the clean Hollywood-fantasy sense of a single cataclysm, but a near-future where the devastations of colonialism &climate change have continued to roll on &on &on ‘which, all in all, amounts to the same thing happening with the surprise of being struck once, or twice, or a hundred more times.’ As Alison Ravenscroft wonders in her review of The Swan Book, ‘Can it be said that all Indigenous texts after 1788 are post-apocalyptic?’ Wright’s apocalypse is one that stretches centuries into the past &future, ‘an ugly bitch of an annihilation.’ while ironically The Swan Book forecasts climate-refugees floating in from Europe. ‘Do Not Rush’, a poem by Omar Sakr, artfully slices into present-day cruelty toward asylum seekers: ‘the unlucky survivors, / the dust-strewn rubble-reapers looking / […] for safe waters that will not drown / them, for borders that will not cut / their feet or demand they unstitch / history from their backs.’
we are living in the midst of an apocalypse; the end of the world. &were we ever invested in the fantasies ‘this world’ had to offer? in The Earthquake Room by Davey Davis —a queer, experimental, near-future, impending apocalypse novel—the main character watches earthquake footage over &over in anticipation of the Big One: ‘many of these videos begin seconds, even minutes, before the earthquake does. as a narrative device, establishing normalcy (a world to be ended) is great for building tension, but as a result bea has spent hours watching what, without the certainty of doom, would have otherwise been boring;’ —&so without the certainty of doom would I be collecting these works together here? is reading at the end of the world a compulsive behaviour? like picking a scab? or itching an insect bite, already bloodied? watching earthquake videos on repeat?
&one more poem now—Jini Maxwell’s ‘Sonogram’ ponders that strangely mundane feeling of impending catastrophe— ‘as we hold the picket-line between normal and tragedy, // but even then everything normally stumbles on,’ Everything normally stumbles on. with all that i’m reading at the end of the world, i’m reminded that there is no clean severance; no single cataclysm; no end to the end of the world; so the play &horror of apocalypses past, present, &future continue to stumble on &on &on &on.